A few days later, Harry and the Weasleys return to Hogwarts through the Floo Network. Mrs. Weasley bids them a tearful farewell – she’s been anxious and upset ever since Percy stormed from the house with Scrimgeour. At Gryffindor tower they meet Hermione, who enthusiastically greets Harry while ignoring Ron, who soon vanishes into Lavender’s arms. Harry quietly begs Hermione to make up with Ron, but she stonily refuses.
In his relationship to the government, Percy is diametrically opposed to Harry: while Harry turns down connections with the Ministry because of its moral lapses, Percy pursues government connections at any cost. It’s no surprise that his mercenary approach to his career has alienated him from his family.
Instead, Harry updates her on the events of the holidays. When he mentions Lupin’s account of Fenrir Greyback, Hermione eagerly points out that they heard Draco using his name to threaten Borgin. Harry sees this as proof that Draco is a Death Eater, but Hermione is still reluctant to subscribe to this theory.
As the novel progresses, Harry gradually transitions from simply suspecting Draco of wrongdoing based on his personal biases to actually collecting factual evidence against him.
The sixth-years are excited to learn that they’ll be receiving Apparition lessons this year – they’ll finally be able to transport themselves at will, like their parents and older siblings. When Ron mentions that Harry has already Apparated alongside an adult, everyone makes him recount the sensation. Hermione and Ron queue together to sign up for lessons, but when Lavender arrives to greet her boyfriend as “Won-Won,” Hermione stalks off.
Being able to Apparate alone is one of the hallmarks of adulthood in the Wizarding world. Their excitement over the lessons shows that Ron, Harry, and Hermione still see growing up as a series of positive milestones, while by the end of the novel it will have assumed a more negative and threatening form.
That night, Harry goes to Dumbledore’s office for another lesson. Dumbledore is unsurprised when Harry reports his conversation with Scrimgeour, since before his resignation, Fudge had been begging him for access to Harry. When Harry repeats what he told Scrimgeour about being “Dumbledore’s man,” the professor’s eyes grow watery and Harry looks down in embarrassment.
However, when Harry repeats the overheard conversation between Snape and Draco, Dumbledore seems unsurprised and urges Harry to forget about it. He’s even a little testy when Harry questions his trust in Snape.
Even though Dumbledore is preparing Harry for adulthood, he still reserves the right to make decisions and moral judgments for himself.
Although Harry is still annoyed, Dumbledore changes the subject to the memories he wishes to share tonight. He recalls that when Tom Riddle arrived at Hogwarts, he proved himself an unusually gifted student, becoming the favorite of many teachers. Although Dumbledore kept a close eye on Tom, he chose not to discuss their first encounter with anyone, hoping the boy had chosen to make a fresh start. As he got older, Riddle cultivated a group of devoted acolytes who basked in his growing power – precursors to the Death Eaters, they were suspected of causing a number of “nasty incidents,” although never actually caught.
Tom Riddle’s menacing gang at Hogwarts is a notable foil to Harry’s group of friends. While Harry’s trio is responsible for righting a number of wrongs at the school, Riddle’s group actively perpetrates injustice. Moreover, while Harry views his friends as respected equals and shares decision-making power with them, Riddle clearly views the other students as subordinates and isolates himself by insisting on his superiority.
The few people willing to recount memories of Riddle testify to his obsession with his ancestry and never-ceasing hope that his father was a wizard. After accepting that his father never went to Hogwarts, he turned his attention to his mother’s family and set off to find the Gaunts.
Like his grandfather Marvolo, Riddle’s self-esteem depends on considering himself part of a wealthy and powerful family. However, unlike Marvolo he will recognize and disdain how far the Gaunts have fallen from their ancient position.
Entering the Pensieve, Harry sees that he’s again in the Gaunt cottage, which is occupied by Morfin, now old and drunk. The door opens and a handsome boy, Tom Riddle, appears. Morfin stands up and moves to attack him, but Riddle orders him to stop in Parseltongue. Drunkenly, Morfin tells the visitor that he looks like his father, who has returned to the village after leaving Merope. He calls his sister a “slut,” saying she “dishonored” the family. At this, Morfin’s memory goes dark – Dumbledore explains that Morfin wakes up in the morning to find his family ring gone, but he can remember nothing.
Morfin’s vulgar description of his sister is an extreme example of the chauvinistic male behavior on display throughout the novel, even from Harry and Ron. It’s also telling that even though Morfin and Riddle are related, there’s no intimacy between them – the Gaunts have become so fractured by their materialistic and bigoted values that there’s no room for family closeness anymore.
Meanwhile, Voldemort travels to the village of Little Hangleton and kills his Tom Riddle Sr. and his grandparents. While the Muggle authorities are confounded by the crime, the Ministry blames Morfin, who’s already known as a Muggle-hater. Morfin admits to the murders, seeming proud at the idea of committing them, and lives out his life in Azkaban. Dumbledore hypothesizes that Riddle used Morfin’s wand to kill the Muggles and then planted a false memory in his uncle’s head. Only with a great deal of magic was Dumbledore able to coax out the real memory of Voldemort’s visit; he tries to use it as evidence to secure Morfin’s release, but Morfin dies before the Ministry makes a decision.
Morfin is clearly an odious person – he’s already committed hate crimes against Muggles, and he admits to further crimes he didn’t commit just because he likes the sound of them. Despite this, Dumbledore actively tries to free him after learning that he’s been imprisoned unjustly. Dumbledore’s behavior suggests that the protections of law apply to even the most loathsome people, who should be treated based on the facts of their behavior rather than personal feelings about it.
Dumbledore pours another memory – the most important of his collection – into the Pensieve, and the two dive in. Harry immediately recognizes a young Professor Slughorn relaxing in his office, surrounded by several teenage boys – including Tom Riddle. Slughorn is wagging his finger at Riddle and jokingly scolding him for being able to “know things [he] shouldn’t” and flatter the right people. Suddenly, a thick fog fills the memory. Harry can see nothing, but he hears Slughorn’s voice loudly intone, “You’ll go wrong, boy, mark my words.”
Interestingly, Slughorn treats Riddle much the same as he does Harry – showing that both young teenagers display the ambition and talent that is so valuable to the professor. However, the fact that Slughorn chose Riddle as a protégée despite his increasingly malicious character demonstrates that the professor’s values are inherently flawed and his regard for material success is not just annoying but pernicious.
Just as suddenly, the fog clears and Slughorn begins to send the boys to bed. Riddle lingers in his office and asks Slughorn what he knows about Horcruxes. Again, fog fills the room and Harry hears Slughorn say sternly that he knows nothing about them and wouldn’t tell Riddle if he did. With that, the memory ends.
Rather than accepting the fact that his conduct hasn’t always been exemplary, Slughorn presents an altered representation of the past in which his moral character is unequivocally upright. In a way, he’s as eager to see people as either good or evil as Harry.
Harry doesn’t understand what’s so important about this memory – until Dumbledore explains that Slughorn has “tampered” with it, probably because he’s ashamed of his original actions. To Harry’s surprise, Dumbledore says that his “homework” is to persuade Slughorn to reveal his real memory. Slughorn is too canny a wizard to be defeated by magical means, so the only way to gain the memory is through a personal connection.
While Dumbledore applauds Harry for refusing to use his personal celebrity to gain contacts at the Ministry, he also wants him to employ it to persuade Slughorn. Part of Dumbledore’s lessons is teaching Harry how to use his fame wisely and responsibly, rather than letting it govern his life.